Wearing the Black Hat II – More Tips for Writing Villains

Last week, AuthorHouse presented our first five tips for writing effective, worthy antagonists for your hero (you can read that post here). Today we’ll delve a little further into what makes a villain memorable and believable. Our first tip is…


Character development isn’t just for your protagonist: it’s okay to give your villain a character arch, just like your hero. Let your villain learn and adapt from his mistakes! And depending on the length of your story, it’s possible he or she won’t even be the “bad guy” in the beginning, but grow into the role.


Provide an origin story: in most cases, you won’t follow your antagonist from birth; however, make sure you create enough of her back-story to explain who she is when the story starts. We said this in the last installment but it’s worth repeating here: put as much thought into your villain as you do your hero!


Proxies and henchmen: but what if you don’t want to reveal your criminal mastermind until late in the book? Then make sure you have at least one henchman or “lieutenant” who is also developed and three dimensional. You don’t necessarily have to flesh out this character as much as your main antagonist; however, as he might be interacting with your hero for much of the story, make sure to provide him with a personality and motivation (even if it’s just a paycheck).


Means and expertise: when you’re crafting your villain’s back-story, make sure that she has the skills and expertise for her “master plan.” It’s okay to have a spy who speaks eight languages, is an expert in both armed and unarmed combat, has a pilot’s license, and is a gourmet chef… as long as you can create a believable explanation for this wide range of experience.


Don’t put too much responsibility on the villain’s shoulders: remember, a great antagonist can’t save a weak story. A great antagonist can, however, make a good story better and more memorable.


As a homework assignment, think of your five most memorable villains from books, TV, or movies. What made them stand out? Was it dialogue? Sympathy? Determination? Identifying which traits worked (or didn’t work) can help you when developing your criminal mastermind.


We’ll present the conclusion of this series next week. Have a great weekend!


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